World-leading robotics engineer named NSW Scientist of the Year

16 September 2010

Professor Hugh Durrant-Whyte is a world leader in robotics.
Professor Hugh Durrant-Whyte is a world leader in robotics.

The University of Sydney's Professor Hugh Durrant-Whyte - a leading robotics innovator who has played a critical role in raising the visibility of Australian robotics internationally - has been named NSW Scientist of the Year.

It is the second year running that a University of Sydney scientist has won the prestigious award. Professor Steve Simpson won the award in 2009 for his research on locusts and what causes them to swarm.

Professor Durrant-Whyte, who leads the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Autonomous Systems and the Australian Centre for Field Robotics, has developed innovative robots which have received global attention and are being used in a wide range of industrial applications.

He recently mentored a team of researchers whose company Marathon Robotics won a $57 million contract with the US Marines to produce free-ranging robots protected by armour plating to help train marksmen.

In naming Professor Durrant-Whyte, NSW Minister for Science and Research Jodi McKay also acknowledged his work in the development of underwater robots, flying weed-spraying drones and massive mining automation systems.

"The NSW Scientist of the Year Award is our state's most prestigious science prize, recognising creative, high calibre research that brings benefits to the state's economy, environment and people," Ms McKay said.

"Professor Durrant-Whyte is a worthy winner of this year's award. He is a world-leader in robotics and has helped develop autonomous solutions for a range of industries including mining, marine, military, aeronautics and agriculture.

"He is literally leading a robotic revolution, not only for Australia but the world."

Professor Durrant-Whyte, who was presented with a $55,000 grant by Ms McKay, said he was proud to receive the NSW Scientist of the Year award and that Australia (and NSW) was the ideal place to develop robotics.

"Australia is the perfect place to develop and apply robotics," he said. "Robotics works for things that are big and expensive and things you don't want to put people into - from mining to underwater exploration.

"Autonomous systems represent the next great step in the fusion of machines, computing, sensing, and software to create intelligent systems capable of interacting with the complexities of the real world."

Professor Durrant-Whyte said the rise of the profile of robots was set to have a huge impact on all areas of society, especially in Australia.

"It's an exciting field and I liken it to the growth of the computer industry.Comparatively, we are currently developing the robotics equivalent of the mainframe computer of the 1960s. But one day, just like computers, there will be robots in every home."

In a joint statement, Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies Dean,  Professor Archie Johnston  and Faculty of Science Dean, Professor Trevor Hambley  congratulated Professor Durrant-Whyte on the award.

"Our success at last night's NSW Scientist of the Year Awards is testament to the strength of science, engineering and technology at the University of Sydney," they said.

"Our people are the very best asset we have and it is wonderful to see them and their teams rewarded and publicly acknowledged for years of work, dedication and innovation.

"Professor Durrant-Whyte has played a critical role in raising the visibility of Australian robotics internationally and earlier this year was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society."

Two other University of Sydney scientists won $5000 prizes in the individual category awards. They are:

  • Professor Bryan Gaensler - winner of the Physics, Earth Sciences, Chemistry and Astronomy Category

As an Associate Professor at Harvard, Professor Gaensler built the world's leading research group for studying neutron stars and supernova remnants and also coordinated the astronomy major for undergraduate students. Now a Professor of Physics at the University of Sydney, his research group is focusing on the origin of magnetism in the universe and the demography of neutron stars and black holes in the Milky Way.

  • Professor Christopher Dickman - winner of the Plant and Animal Sciences Category

The focus of Professor Dickman's research is the investigation of factors influencing the distribution and abundance of land animals. Research on communities of mammals and lizards contributes to debate shaping population and species dynamics and achieving practical conservation goals.

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